My Return to Nigeria

A return to Nigeria is never without drama! The people are dynamic, expressive and at times, combative. When I moved to Nigeria in 2014, I asked a friend who is a flight attendant if there were punishment routes for cabin crew? She responded no but I believe that a flight to Nigeria is either a punishment or only for the very experienced.

Last month I boarded a flight to Nigeria from Tanzania. Even before departing from Dar es Salaam, I became acutely aware that I was traveling to Nigeria. As I was standing in the immigration queue waiting for my turn, I could feel the presence of an individual standing too close behind me in the queue. Nigerians don’t believe in the personal space bubble. My queue was moving too slow for him, so he jumped to another queue and presented his green Nigerian passport to the officer. My suspicions were correct.

A typical queue in Nigeria. There is no space between individuals.

On our connecting flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Abuja, Nigeria, we had a technical issue before taking off. This issue delayed our flight by two hours. Technical issues on planes are always unsettling when you are about to ascend into the heavens. But I have watched several documentaries about airplanes and why planes crash and have come to a basic understanding that most planes crash because of an unknown issue or an issue that occurred mid-flight. Usually, an issue on the ground is fixed or the passengers are rebooked for another airplane.

On the flight from Addis Ababa to Abuja, the passengers were not having it with the cabin crew when the pilot announced that we would be finally taking off. We were taxing down the runway when murmuring began among the passengers. A woman yelled out that people on this plane are too calm after we just experienced a technical issue. She declared that she wanted to get off the plane. She continued by saying that she “used her money to buy this ticket and demanded to get off.” Her comments were like a fuse as others began to talk loudly about getting off the flight. Then other passengers began standing up in the aisle demanding the pilot make an announcement. The flight attendant pleaded with people to sit down as we are about to take off. At one point she was drowned out by the cacophony of complaints from the passengers. When there was a pause in their complaints she said, “why do you think we would risk our lives if we didn’t think this flight was not safe.” Minutes later the pilot made an announcement. He explained the situation and apologized for the delay. He also apologized for not communicating with passengers on the issue. While this settled the passengers on the plane the initial woman continued murmuring about not wanting to be on the flight and her desire to get off.

I understand their concerns as flying through the sky is unnerving! As a passenger your life is in the hands of a few pilots that you have never met. You must trust that they understand the plane and will do their due diligence to safely land the plane at its destination. However, flying is a very safe travel option. At any given time, there could be close to a million people flying through the skies to a destination.

But for a Nigerian, their fear steams from a country where institutions are weak, money can circumvent regulations, and no one is held accountable for their actions. I used to wonder why Nigerians, when airlines call for boarding would rush the door to be the first on the airplane. However, I was informed by my colleagues that there was a time when airlines would book multiple people for the same seat. The person who sat in the sit first would be the one to keep the seat! In addition, a series of plane crashes between 2008 and 2012 in Nigeria affected Nigerians perceptions of the aviation sector that lacked institutional controls. There is even a story that Nigerians tell of a former Governor who died in Lagos and as his body was transferred back to his home, the plane crashed minutes after takeoff. Nigerians say he died twice.

But this isn’t the first flight where Nigerians tried to storm their way off a plane. In 2016, as my parents and I were traveling to Kigali, Rwanda from Lagos for my wedding, a group of Nigerians stormed the front of the plane in hopes of forcing the flight attendants to allow them to get off the airplane. They were angry because the airplane was unable to provide air conditioning while boarding. The pilot promised that once in the air, there would be air conditioning. The reassurance from the pilot didn’t stop these individuals for attempting a coup of the airplane. The flight attendant told them that if they left the plane, the flight would take off without them. The quietly returned to their seats and the plane pushed back for take off.

I am back in the land of green and white…as eventful as ever!

One Comment on “My Return to Nigeria

  1. What a colorful story painting the crazy life of living in Nigeria. Be safe and keep doing good work, my friend! On an aside: last week I showed a couple some homes. One went to Alabama and the other went to Auburn. Their son broke the tie by wearing an Auburn shirt. Thought that would bring a smile.

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